By Chibuike Onyeukwu
In his very eventful 55 years of earthly sojourn, no birthday anniversary can be as significant for His Excellency, Rt. Hon. Chukwuemeka Nkemakolam Ihedioha CON, than the one being marked today, March 24, 2020. Since stepping into independent adulthood, Hon. Ihedioha has, like every other living mortal, come across many challenges. In his public service – political career, he has had low and high points. There have been times to cheer and times to be sober. There have been times when things even took a reverse gear.
But taken singly or cumulatively, none of those experiences can compare with the struggle to liberate his people, the good people of Imo State from the shackles of perennial misgovernance with its attendant social and economic deprivation. Noteworthy, Hon. Ihedioha started his public service at the age of 27 years, when he got his first political appointment in 1992 as Press Officer to Senator Albert Legogie, then Deputy President of the Senate. He indeed showed leadership traits quite early in his career. This year, the year of our Lord, those qualities manifested in their fullness.
Ordinarily, some may regard his election as Governor of Imo, the Heartland State on March 9, 2019, as the climax of his career. But, as far I am concerned it is not. Of course, that was great achievement but the people were yet to have the true taste of him which was months ahead.
While Imolites were overwhelmingly handing over to him the mandate to preside over their affairs for the next four years that day, little did they know that the next few months will put them on a head on collision with anti democratic elements that were lurking around to reverse their collective victory.
But providence prepared both His Excellency and the people for that battle. For, without the foot dragging that usually characterizes early stages on assumption of office, Hon. Ihedioha proceeded with uncommon swiftness. For a state that was governed almost without records and procedure for eight years, the first thing that struck Imollites was a quick return to order, due process, inclusiveness and accountability in governance.
An appreciative citizenry, reputed as very discerning, Imolites did not mince words in making their own comparison between the new order and the chaos they were made to live with for eight years. But they aren’t seen anything yet. Initially, elemental constraints did not allow the governor proceed with the rebuilding of the state’s collapsed infrastructure with the speed he had wanted. But once that was over with the receding of the rains, Imolites saw what could easily go as the best articulated infrastructure development programme in their state.
With – REBUILD IMO – as its revolutionary mantra, Rt. Hon. Ihedioha moved with a speed never seen before in the state. Initially, some skeptics, quite naturally, thought that the simultaneous rehabilitation of over 33 roads, including federal roads meant that standards will be lowered. But they were quickly proved wrong. The good people of the state discovered, to their pleasant surprise, that the quality of the works being carried on were of the highest standards and were being handled by reputable firms unlike the immediate past years.
Thus, with a combination of an early return to due process, accountability through the implementation of the Treasury Single Account TSA, high quality construction, restoration and prompt payment of 100 percent salaries and pensions coupled with the return of government to the grassroots – through the implementation of full autonomy of the local government administration – it was no surprise that the people galvanized themselves to queue behind Ihedioha’s Rebuild Imo administration.
These records – pension reforms – comprehensive sports development – youth development- agricultural revolution – transparency, return of government to the people – constituted the magic which the rest of the country marveled at, as they sought to decipher how His Excellency’s administration had, within such a short period of time, gotten a huge support base and buy-in across all shads and divide.
To cut the long story short, it was this uncommon level of self-mobilization that led the people to stand in unison to condemn the high-level conspiracy and fraud that brought the Ihedioha administration to a sudden end. Imolites rejected – and still reject – January 14, 2020, Supreme Court ruling not only because they saw it as a travesty of justice but also, and more importantly, because they had realized that the Ihedioha administration represented a very good example of what they had been expecting in the governance of their affairs.
Agreed that even with that violent disruption of that saga with their choice chief executive, the people have remained calm but that is only characteristic of them – a peaceful and law-abiding people. Imolites will remain unmistaken on who is their hero: The leader who stood by them as they fought anti-people and anti-democratic elements in their midst who, in collaboration with outsiders, sought to reverse their collective destiny.
Of course, the people will rise again and with them their hero, Emeka Ihedioha. At 55, His Excellency, Governor Emeka Ihedioha, still has a lot going for him, perhaps far more than he has already done. Still young – even if relatively – and upwardly mobile, the sky is still his limit. But no future exploit may be capable of standing above that of presiding over the people at a time they faced what could easily be regarded as their biggest challenge in their collective history. Needles to say, the year, 2020, the year he turns 55 years of age, a year he enriched the electoral jurisprudence, stands aside in the life of His Excellency. It is a year like no other in his life.
Unknown to his detractors, the events between January 14 and March 3, 2020 have merely equipped him more to fight for the people. Not just Imolites but the entire people of Nigeria. As a member of the House of Representatives – 2003 – 2011, Hon. Ihedioha not only left his mark on the sands of history, but led the struggle for what we enjoy today – independence of the legislature to elect its leaders – and unpretentiously took entire Nigeria as his constituency. The ubiquity of his green cap of wisdom was unmistaken as he featured in public functions in many parts of the country, collaborating with fellow leaders to give Nigerians, from North to South, East to West, a sense of direction.
Since after March 3, 2020, legal eggheads as well as league of democrats, within and outside Nigeria, have risen in unison to say that his decision to seek a review of the January 14, Supreme Court ruling has pushed the frontiers of electoral jurisprudence in the country. The well research and globally hailed dissenting judgment of the iconic Justice Chima Nweze, though of no practical use, vindicated him and will remain a point of reference for those who will continue from there to work for the sanctity of the nation’s democracy.
The following passage from His Excellency’s official reaction to the March 3, 2020 judgment should be a good reference for Nigerians in their collective quest for justice and fair play moving forward: “Whatever may be the injury I suffer as a result of the miscarriage of justice, my main concern in the whole tragic episode is not about me. It has always been about the implication this judgment could have for the future of our democracy and the right of the electorate to have their votes count. If institutions that are critical to the entrenchment of the rule of law could thwart the wishes of the people in a cynical manner, where lies the future of our democracy?”.
On their part, there can be no doubt that the events of the last couple of months have made Nigerians, in general, more resolute, than before, to be vigilant. It was the Imo matter that opened their eyes that Supreme Court judgments may not be infallible after all. They might not have succeeded in successfully challenging the Supreme Court over its rulings on contemporary political or electoral matters – due more to political exigencies than legal imperatives – but the journey of a thousand miles, as the Chinese would say, begins with just one step.
Happy birthday my great boss, brother and mentor. From an unknown village, Mbutu, in our native Aboh Mbaise local government area, you have, by dint of hard work and the grace of God, risen to be at the first eleven of the champions of democracy in this part of the world.
Your Excellency, it is still morning on creation day. God definitely must be up to something with you